Raising Funds for Cancer Research: Support the Little Guys

PJ Hamel Health Guide
  • It seems like everyone has a hand out for a handout these days.

    From the little boys in baseball uniforms shaking cans of coins at you as you exit the supermarket, to the classy fund-raising letter you get from your local hospital—everyone needs money.

    Not surprising; with the economy just barely beginning to resurrect itself from the shambles it’s been in since last fall, funds for non-profits have dried up faster than rain on Texas asphalt. Thus the increase in candy-bar selling, bake/rummage sales, and general pleading via phone and mail (and email).

    Personally, I’m a soft touch. I want to help EVERYONE. But just staying afloat these days is a challenge, what with medical and dental bills, college tuition, filling the gas tank... I work three jobs, and sometimes I wonder how someone working just a single job can make it. So, I have to pick and choose who to support, and who to regretfully turn away.

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    As a breast cancer survivor, I’m committed to giving something back to the medical community that did so much for me. The doctors, nurses, and associated personnel at Norris Cotton Cancer Center (NCCC) in Lebanon, NH save my life; they also turned it around. Cancer took away my health, but it gave me something better: a passion for helping. I’ve discovered there’s nothing so satisfying as giving someone a hand. Especially if that someone is a fellow breast cancer survivor.

    Fund-raising via NCCC’s annual cycling/walking event is a big part of how I give back. Last year, we set a new record, topping $2 million raised in this single-day event. This year—trouble.

    With less than 2 weeks to go, funds raised so far total barely 30% of our $2.25 million goal. And that bothers me. Because a good percentage of the monies raised by this event goes to Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center and Dartmouth Medical School, to support truly cutting-edge cancer research.

    Research that’s been turned down for funding by “the big guys.”

    I know there’s a place for the “safe” ideas that most researchers must pursue in order to get funding from conventional sources. But I also believe the cure for cancer will begin with a “what if...?” moment, followed by some outside-the-box thinking funded not by the National Cancer Institute, or the American Cancer Society; but by relatively minuscule little fund-raisers, like the one I’ll walk in July 11.

    So, do funding behemoths NCI and ACS really deny grants for much of the most advanced, cutting-edge cancer research? Apparently so, according to a front-page article in last Sunday’s New York Times. The piece focused on the system that funds cancer research and why, despite decades of study and billions of dollars, the search for the cure has been so slow.

    According to many sources interviewed by the Times, the grant system is broken. Dr. Richard D, Klausner, a former director of the NCI, says “[The grant system] is a terrible wasted opportunity for the scientists, patients, the nation and the world.”

    Why? Dr. Otis W. Brawley, chief medical officer of the ACS, puts it succinctly: “No one wants to fund wild new ideas.”

  • The Times article addresses the root causes of this issue in great depth. Bottom line, the  “crazy ideas” that very occasionally result in huge breakthroughs in treatment—and bring us closer to the cure—are seldom funded through conventional sources. Conventional funding sources (the National Cancer Institute, et. al.) want to see some initial proof that the idea will work before providing funding. But without seed money, scientists are unable to develop that proof.

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    That’s why, like Yossarian, I try to buck the system. I appreciate the support offered by the American Cancer Society. I value my tax dollars at work via the NCI.

    But when it comes to cancer research, I’d rather put my hard-earned money into the hands of scientists who, like me, want to buck the grant system. And I've found a whole coterie of those scientists right here at the Norris Cotton Cancer Center.


    Thanks, folks. You're working for me... and I'm walking for you.

Published On: July 01, 2009